Marketing tips from "in front of the front line”

This week, I chose to compare RIG’s marketing strategy to IBM’s to determine the differences between marketing of an entrepreneurial firm and a global corporation. I referred to an article by IBM, which I had previously read whilst preparing for my exams at LSE, on how to use marketing and the internet in order to boost performance.

IBM’s whitepaper, 'Marketing in the digital age' recommends the following 5 tips from the “front line”:

  • Create a global brand blueprint and express it locally;
  • Architect a customer experience that is consistent with your brand;
  • Gain a single view of the customer;
  • Insist on a robust IT infrastructure; and
  • Partner in innovative ways.

These all may seem common sense. They definitely made sense to me after I memorised them in preparation for exams. Now consider yourself working in a growth stage company with small number of employees…

IBM’s “create a global brand blueprint and express it locally” or “insist on robust IT infrastructure” recommendations don’t make much sense in this context, do they? Let me explain further…

For example, small firms often utilise commonly and widely available off-the-shelf IT hardware and software so it does not make sense to have “insist on a robust IT infrastructure” as one of the most important guidelines for successful marketing. It is simply not feasible for a growth-stage company to turn half of its office into a server room or own a 100GB domain. What I am trying to get at is that some global marketing tips are irrelevant for start-ups.

So, since I believe that global marketing tips cannot usually be fully adopted by start-ups, I decided to generate a few tips myself from what I have observed here at Rapid Innovation Group so far. Referring back to IBM's tips from the "front line", I shall call them 5 marketing tips from "in front of the front line”:

  • Standardise your services and set aggressive, yet achievable actions list for both you and your client
  • Be entrepreneur-spirited when it comes to technology – use the most up-to-date software available given your budget and utilise the new technology to your best use
  • Get close to your clients – become a part of their company and team, talk to them on day-to-day basis (or all day in some cases), know everything about their offerings, and approach their clients as one of their employees
  • Make best use of non-corporate culture – use your colleagues’ strengths and let them use yours to get the best outcome for the company, and be cooperative not competitive
  • Use an “underground” approach to expanding your visibility/popularity within your target market – ‘what comes around goes around’, so always leave a good impression and you may get interest from the least expected people

Networking: where do I start?

Despite the fact we live in a ‘global world’ it never fails to surprise me how localised various industries seem to remain. Indeed, the old adage, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know” seems to remain a significant component of doing business in the 21st century. And it is with some modicum of frustration that I note that this challenge – of knowing the ‘right’ people – seemingly exists regardless of the compelling nature of your solution.

To clarify, I am not suggesting that a business will not be successful without actively ‘networking’ but rather that networking itself, or more importantly monetising those networks, remains a key component of business.

It was with this in mind, and with aspirations to replicate the success of Debra Meaden, that I began my ‘networking career’ back in July 2010 – beginning from a standing start my objective was two-fold:

  1. To identify appropriate  networking groups, forums and events through which to network into my target sectors and with key decision makers
  2. To gain access to these key decision makers on behalf of my client

Challenge 1, which I somewhat naively thought would be easily solved through a few hours of internet research was in reality rather more challenging.  Although a plethora of networking groups, forums and events exist identifying the right ones and subsequently maximising my time was a key consideration.  With this in mind I set out to find groups which met my 4 criteria below:

  1. They needed to be industry specific
  2. They needed to be attended by key decision makers
  3. They needed to be free or of minimal cost
  4. They needed to be easy for me to access

What I hadn’t allowed for in this criteria however was that the group itself need to accept or preferably welcome industry outsiders.  Indeed, as I quickly found out a significant number of groups were not keen to admit people who they saw as targeting their members with the eventual aim of selling to them – in retrospect hardly surprising.

As a result, this process was much like internet dating, involving some rejection, a little flirting to establish the relevance of each party to the other and an eventual agreement that ‘we were well suited’.

Eventually, after over a month of searching I joined two very different networking groups, one in each of my target industries.

To be continued….

Choose your customers

One of the topics I like to discuss with prospective RIG-ers at interview is what the first steps are that they would undertake to plan the demand generation (i.e. marketing) strategy for one of our typical earlier stage clients. I describe this ‘typical’ client as having the following characteristics:

  • A market ready B2B SaaS offering
  • One paying customer
  • A recent angel investment with the objective of driving sales and marketing

There are numerous mechanisms, processes, and strategies in planning the initial stages of an effective marketing effort for such a company. However, I try and guide the discussion to the central tenet of any successful plan – the fact that you need to begin by choosing your customer. This becomes remarkably obvious to the candidate when I tell them, but it is non-the-less a vital step in any marketing strategy.

The key of course, is how to invest limited resources to maximise chances of market traction. In order to do this, you want to sell your solution to an organisation which has:

  • A problem / opportunity which your product solves / enables them to exploit better or cheaper than alternatives
  • An awareness that this problem / opportunity exists
  • Available budget

Now you have chosen your customer, in which markets do you find them? What is the best way to reach them? How are you able to articulate your proposition in such a way that it is most compelling? How do you make it more compelling than going with a competitor, doing nothing at all or doing something in house? How should you price the solution and what is the anticipated return on investment? How do you navigate the complex sale?

Once you have found a way to do it, how you codify this process to drive both repeatability and visibility for the purposes of revenue predictability? What are the key hires and what can be done to ensure the optimal candidate is recruited and able to perform? When is more investment required? Would growth objectives be better met if partnerships were formed in certain areas? How are the best partners found and what management processes are needed to reduce the risks of failure?

These are all the challenges we not only advise our clients on, but actively execute for them, and they are all areas that I will cover in future posts.

At this stage in the interview, the candidates are always suitably fired up about our business!